President Obama made headlines recently by endorsing the concept of net neutrality and saying that internet service providers should be treated more like phone utilities than cable providers. It is an increasingly popular position as many people realize that unlike cable service, the internet has become a necessary feature of modern living.
One person that appears to be opposing Obama and net neutrality generally is Tom Wheeler, a former telcom lobbyist that Obama appointed to be chairman of the FCC. When Wheeler was appointed many people noted he was a walking conflict of interest and that if Obama was serious about having the FCC introduce net neutrality rules he would have appointed someone else.
So here we are, an industry-backed regulator is now going to oppose the president that appointed him. That is, of course, assuming Obama really does believe in an open internet. But if he does, why would he have appointed Wheeler in the first place?
The dissonance between Obama and Wheeler has the makings of a major policy fight affecting multibillion-dollar industries. The president wants clear rules to prevent Internet service providers from auctioning the fastest speeds to the highest bidders, a scenario that could favor rich Web firms over start-ups.
Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and telecommunications industry,has floated proposals that aim to limit the ability of service providers to charge Web companies, such as Netflix or Google, to reach their customers. But critics have argued that his approach would give the providers too much leeway to favor some services over others.
Wheeler says he wants a policy that factors in the views of his former clients in the telecommunications industry and that he has to “figure out is how to split the baby,” when it comes to crafting a policy that promotes an open internet while not hurting existing businesses. Not exactly hope and change.
As is repeatedly worth noting, private industry did not invent nor build the internet. The internet was created with public money using public institutions such as the Department of Defense and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Thus, it is more than appropriate for government regulators to side with the public interest over private benefit when deciding how the internet should be regulated. Mr. Wheeler’s actual client is supposed to be the public, though he apparently is still stuck in lobbyist mode.